Blog Tour: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
We’re super excited to have Larbalestier on our blog today, and not at all because she threatened us with a razor and said she was going to cut us. (Please help us). You may have seen Larbalestier’s awesome activism on Twitter, or read one of her previous books like Liar or Team Human. Today we’ll be talking about her new book, Razorhurst. Set in 1930’s Sydney Australia amongst the bloody gang wars. With limited guns available, gang members turn their prowess for violence towards the razor blades. It’s a bloody, beautiful novel.
Q: The setting of the novel is 1930’s Sydney Australia, in the grip of mob warfare. This beautiful novel has such a unique viewpoint. How much of it is historically accurate? To what degree are the characters like Gloriana Nelson and Davidson, and the setting of Razorhurst real?
A: Thank you. So pleased you like it. As far as the events of the novel go basically none of it is historically accurate. I made all that up.
However, Gloriana Nelson was based on two real-life women, Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who ran cocaine, opium, gambling, prostitution and sly grog and myriad other criminal operations in the 1920s and 1930s. But my Gloriana Nelson was just as influenced by Ruth Park’s fictional Delie Stock. In fact Park’s Delie is why I combined Devine and Leigh into one character, in Ruth Park’s honour. Her writing is a big influence on mine. Mr Davidson is not as directly based on any real-life characters.
The setting is real in that Surry Hills and Kings Cross and Darlinghurst are real places. I walked every street of those suburbs and poured over old maps and photos trying to figure out what it would have looked like back then. But at the same time, once I started writing it became it’s own place, Razorhurst, which never really existed and was infested with ghosts.
Q: How much time did you spend researching this novel?
A: That’s a hard question to answer. I didn’t consciously realise I was doing research for a novel when I first read Larry Writer’s superb non-fiction account, Razor: Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and the razor gangs. I was just reading a cool book about the part of Sydney where I live. But then I came across Peter Doyle’s collections of Sydney police photos from the same period and it was like seeing all the people in Razor come to life. Those photos are so haunting. That’s when I found myself writing the first few sentences, chapters of Razorhurst and that’s when I started researching in earnest. To find out all the things I didn’t know. I read newspapers and magazines and novels of the time. Read all the books I could find from the bibliography of Larry Writer’s book. I pretty much always research as I write so to at last answer your question I spent as much time researching Razorhurst as I spent writing it which was about two years.
Q: Kelpie is an orphan who can speak to ghosts, though not all are helpful. Did her character speak to you? Was she easy to write?
A: Kelpie’s voice was there from the first day of writing. So, yes, she was pretty easy to write. Though not as easy as Glory Nelson and Bluey Denham. The hardest characters for me to write are the least flawed ones. I solve that problem by always writing flawed characters. (Though now I feel like I should challenge myself and write a character with very few flaws.)
Q: Dymphna, a beautiful woman working for one of the most powerful mob bosses in Razorhurst, reluctantly takes Kelpie in. She seems like an incredibly complex character. what was the hardest part about writing her?
A: Honestly, Dymphna was also easy to write. I’m trying to think of what about her I found hard to write. I guess the flashbacks to her family and why she ran away. That was pretty upsetting to write.
Originally the book was almost entirely from Kelpie’s point of view. There were only three chapters from Dymphna’s point of view, and then in the next draft I added a handful more, by the final draft half the book was Dymphna’s. It’s a much better book as a result. I love the way the two women see the world so very differently and are so very different and yet they belong together. I love writing about friendship.
The hardest part about writing Razorhurst was not any of the characters. It was the structure, writing a book that takes place over one day, getting the balance between the main story and the interstitials to work. That was really hard.
Q: What drew you to writing about the 1930s Sydney and women’s experiences of trying to survive during this time?
A: I just realised, or rather a friend just pointed out, that all my solo books are about Sydney or New York City. (Yes, including How To Ditch Your Sydney.) The book I’m writing now is set in NYC and the protag is from Sydney. They’re the two cities I’ve spent the most time in and they both fascinate me. For many years now I’ve been working on a book set in NYC in the 1930s. I was particularly fascinated by that decade in the city’s history because I so love the US movies of that decade and the fashion. I may have bought myself some 30s dresses. For research purposes, obviously. But that novel keeps getting longer and longer and more complicated so I keep putting it aside. It did make me wonder what Sydney was like during the same time period, which was one of the many spurs to writing Razorhurst.
Published: June 25th 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.
Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.
Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.
When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .
Catch the rest of the Blog Tour!
Allen & Unwin is being super generous and have three paperback copies of Razorhurst available for giveaway!
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